GOP doubts grow about Rubio

Congressional Republicans are re-evaluating Marco RubioMarco RubioGroups unendorse Grayson after domestic violence allegations Trump postpones Hispanic roundtable Tim Kaine backs call to boost funding for Israeli missile defense MORE’s presidential campaign in the wake of his dismal showing in New Hampshire and disastrous debate performance over the weekend.

The GOP establishment rallied around the freshman Florida senator last week after he outperformed polls in Iowa by finishing a strong third in that state’s caucuses.

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Now they’re questioning whether he can stand up to the pressure of facing off against the Democratic nominee — likely Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonSanders signs autographs as Clinton makes surprise showing on stage Coincidence? Obama spoke for 44 minutes, Clinton for 42 First lady praises Obama speech: 'That's my man!’ MORE — in the general election.

“People who have already endorsed [Rubio] are probably concerned to see how he can come out of South Carolina. I think there’s a definite level of concern,” said Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Moore CapitoWeek ahead: Clinton, Dems to tout green agenda at convention Company announces closure of Ohio coal plants Why regulations were a convenient target at the GOP convention MORE (R-W.Va.), who has not endorsed in the race.

South Carolina will host the next Republican presidential primary, on Feb. 20.

Some lawmakers are giving a second look at former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who had been largely written off ahead of Tuesday’s primary.

Bush beat expectations by finishing in a virtual tie for third place in the Granite State, just ahead of Rubio, with 11 percent of the vote.

“It obviously breathes more life into his campaign, to push him down to South Carolina,” Capito said of Bush. 

But Rubio’s stumble in New Hampshire — which came after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie effectively humiliated him on the debate stage — revived questions about his readiness.

“There’s questions not about his ability but about his lack of experience,” Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) said of Rubio.

Jones had endorsed Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulWhat to watch for on Day 2 at the GOP convention Cyber squatters sitting on valuable VP web addresses Majority of GOP senators to attend Trump convention MORE (R-Ky.) but is weighing other candidates now that Paul has dropped out.

Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsOur children, our future – bridging the partisan divide Trump starts considering Cabinet Trump tweets: 'Such a great honor' to be GOP nominee MORE (R-Ala.), an outspoken conservative who is neutral in the race, said “it looks like” people are reassessing Rubio’s chances.

“He had big momentum out of Iowa, and it wasn’t maintained,” he said. “It’s funny how people can peak and never recover.”

Steve Schmidt, a veteran GOP strategist who ran Sen. John McCainJohn McCainFULL SPEECH: Tim Kaine accepts Democratic VP nomination Retired admiral: It would be a disaster if Trump were the face of the U.S. Panetta's Trump attack thrown off course MORE’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign, said Rubio needs a miracle.

“A fifth place finish in New Hampshire means effectively he’s bleeding out,” Schmidt said of Rubio on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

The Florida senator finished with 10.6 percent of the vote in New Hampshire. In the run-up to the contest, polls showed him in second place, with an average of 14 percent.

“That campaign is effectively over unless he can pull off a miracle and win the Nevada caucuses,” Schmidt added. “He doesn’t have a path in South Carolina.”

McCain, who won his party’s nomination in 2008, said Rubio has only
himself to blame for the way he froze when Christie attacked him as a scripted, overly cautious candidate.

“He himself said, ‘Nobody but me. I take responsibility for it.’ I agree with him,” McCain said of Rubio.

Rubio’s GOP critics are making the argument on Capitol Hill that he’s not ready to run for president, particularly given the hostile media environment.

“Democrats can run a younger person like John F. Kennedy because the media is with them,” said Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchTim Kaine backs call to boost funding for Israeli missile defense Froman: Too early to start trade talks with the UK Bacteria found ahead of Olympics underscores need for congressional action for new antibiotics MORE (R-Utah), a Bush backer. “Republicans will have a more difficult time because if somebody’s young, they’re going to get beaten up like never before by this biased media.”

Rubio on Wednesday morning blamed an unrelenting media barrage for his disappointing showing Tuesday.

“What happened is, obviously, Saturday night, the debate went the way it went, and then just the media coverage over the last 72 hours was very negative about it,” he said Wednesday morning on “Fox & Friends.”

Rubio’s allies, who have been working to round up endorsements in Congress, argued Wednesday that his debate gaffe and fifth-place showing would have only a temporary impact.

“These things are pretty short-lived. I think it’s had the impact it’s going to have. This guy’s good. I’ve seen him give lots and lots and lots of speeches,” said Sen. Jim RischJim RischRepublicans root for Pence as VP Senate votes for energy bill negotiations with House GOP senators: Revoke security clearances for Clinton and her staffers MORE (R-Idaho), who has endorsed Rubio.

Risch acknowledged, however, that Bush’s performance gave him a ticket to stay in the race.

“He over-performed, so he’ll come out of there with something,” he said.

Last week, Risch predicted Bush wouldn’t finish in New Hampshire’s top three.

Bush’s allies claimed their candidate is now perfectly set up to perform well in South Carolina, a state his father and brother won in past presidential elections and one that has an impressive track record in picking the eventual GOP nominee.

“Jeb Bush has a very good chance of being nominated because he did well,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.). “I think he’s going to do well in South Carolina. He has the depth of support and the organization.”

Rubio had been the target of an intense negative advertising campaign by Bush and Christie. His backers say those attacks may abate now that Christie has dropped out and Bush has incentive to focus instead on Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the second-place finisher in New Hampshire.

Kasich is now trying to claim the mantle as the leading mainstream Republican alternative to front-runners Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump campaign dismisses Dem attacks as ‘night of empty rhetoric’ Obama makes case for Clinton to succeed him FULL SPEECH: President Obama at the Democratic convention MORE and Ted CruzTed CruzGrassroots battling establishment on trade at conventions Fixing the disastrous nomination process Attacking Trump for the few sensible things he says is bad strategy MORE. But GOP lawmakers question whether his second-place finish in New Hampshire will translate to success in South Carolina and other states.

They noted that Kasich held more than 100 town-hall events in New Hampshire and doesn’t have much of a political operation in South Carolina or states voting later in March.

“Kasich did well, but whether that victory will have legs in South Carolina and the SEC primaries is in doubt,” Sessions said.